07. Letter 6 - What to attend to...

Letter 6

October 7, 1840.

Dear Brethren and Sisters,

In continuing my remarks upon what to attend to in the training of children, let me emphasize that you must keep them, as much as possible, with yourself and under your own eye. Make yourself, as far as possible, the companion of your own children. There is perhaps no greater error among parents than to allow the children of a neighbourhood to mingle with each other, and without restraint find their own sports and employ themselves as they please. There is scarcely a neighbourhood in which there are not, more or less, children who have heard various degrees of filthy conversation, vulgar, hateful, polluting, immoral, and perhaps profane and blasphemous things; and whose minds have become deeply imbued, perhaps, with the spirit of the pit or some other abomination, which, if left without restraint, will corrupt all the children in the neighbourhood. Thus, one wicked child, if left to mingle freely with the whole neighbourhood of playful, confiding and unsuspecting children, will defile and ruin them all. Therefore, beloved, keep your children at home. Allow no children of your neighbours to come within your yard, or upon their playground, without your consent. And be careful not to give your consent, unless you or some responsible adult member of your family can be with them. Be sure that you do not trust in the purity of a neighbour’s children just because their parents are good people, nor assume that the minister’s or the deacon’s children may be left to mingle with your children safely. You should remember that the best of parents may have their children corrupted by contact with other wicked children, and you cannot be sure that they have not been. Therefore, be on your guard, or perhaps from the children of pious parents an influence may flow in upon your family that will deeply corrupt and finally destroy your children.

“But,” most parents are apt to object, “we cannot give up our time to our children. We are obliged to attend to other matters.” To this I reply that very seldom is this necessarily so. If the parents would satisfy themselves with a moderate supply of this world’s goods, and abandon their fastidious and fashionable ways of living, they would, in almost all cases, have abundant time for companionship with their children.

But again it is objected, “Our children need the society of each other. The children of a neighbourhood are benefited by contact with each other. Without this contact, they are apt to be selfish, proud, and to lack interest in others besides themselves.” To this I answer, to be sure children need society. They need contact with other minds. They need to be so associated with other human beings as to take an interest in them, to witness the developments of character, and to develop their own characters. But it is believed, at least by me, that children are vastly more benefited by contact with adult minds than with the minds of children. I mean of course, those adults whose spirit, conversation and conduct are what they ought to be. And, to be sure, it ought to be contact with those who take an interest in them. The example of adults has more influence with children than that of children with each other. And I honestly say, I would not care to have my children ever see any other children, could they be favoured with the right kind of adult contact.

Provide means for engaging their attention at home. Children must have amusement. They must and will be involved in activities. They must have a room and grounds to play in. They must have means and things with which to occupy themselves. And parents can never make a more just and appropriate use of their money than providing with it the means of occupying, employing and educating their children. It is a vast mistake in parents to consider their money thrown away or misapplied when it is expended in the purchase of hobbyhorses, little carts, wagons, sleds, dolls, sets of furniture for their playhouses, needles, thimbles, scissors, boards, hammers, saws, augers, and tools with which their children may busy themselves, and with which to begin to design for themselves the structures which they see around them.

It should be remembered, however, that children love variety; they are never satisfied long with any one thing. They should not, therefore, be provided with too many things at once. For should you purchase many things at a time, you will soon find it impossible to provide novelties for them. Generally, a single new item at a time is sufficient to occupy their attention. A child will find a great many things to do with a gimlet. When he has busied himself with this, and finally lays it aside, add a pocket-knife. With his gimlet and knife he can peg pieces of wood together. If to these you add, after a time, a hammer, then a little saw, and thus proceed carefully, but with due attention to just what is needed to sustain their attention, you will render them content at home without occupying much of your own time.

You will find it very important to let your children each have some place for his tools; and let it be an invariable rule, that whenever he has finished using them, they are to be put every one in its place. Let the child be made to feel that it is of great importance that nothing should be lost or mislaid. Thus you will cultivate a habit that will be of vast service to him through life. If he has little carts or wagons, be sure that he never leaves them out in the rain or dew, but has them securely housed; and the reasons why tools should not be exposed to the weather should be made familiar to his mind. If you have but one child, he will be lonesome, unless you take a little trouble in teaching him how to amuse himself. You must play with him, take him with you when it is convenient, go into his playroom or playground, show him how to use his little blocks, his little tools, his hobbyhorse, and try to give his little mind a start in the direction of inventing his own activities.

If you have several children, endeavour to make them satisfied with each other’s companionship, without feeling a disposition either to go away from home for companions, or to invite those from outside to come to them. They must be restrained and kept from doing these things or they are certainly undone. This, then, must be a subject of study, of prayer, of much consideration on your part, how you may make your children love each other, be willing to stay at home, and be satisfied with their books, play-things, home, and siblings without roving the neighbourhood for their amusements and activities.

Cultivate in them a taste for reading. To this end you must read to them yourself, or employ some judicious and excellent reader to read to them. You should yourself continue, from time to time, to search out and purchase such books as will interest and edify them, from which you can read to them from time to time such stories and things as will interest them and make a deep and right impression on their minds. But, beloved, be sure to be judicious in the selection of books and stories. Read nothing to them which you have not read over yourself. Consider what your children are, and ponder well what will be the natural influence of the material which you intend to read or to have read to them. And in all your selections have the moral bearings of whatever you in any way communicate to them strongly before your mind. Be sure to let no one at any time give your children books, tell stories, read things, or sing songs, or in any way make communications to them, the moral tendency of which is injurious.

Encourage them in employing themselves usefully; that is, in doing whatever may be beneficial to themselves or others. In the summer they may keep a little garden. At all times they may be involved in imitating the mechanical arts, making any pieces of machinery or tools for their own use, little tables, chairs, bedsteads, and in doing, in short, whatever can contribute to the well-being of the species.

Make your children your confidential friends. In other words, you be the confidential friends and companions of your children. Accustom them to confide to you all their secrets and everything that passes in their minds. On multitudes of occasions, they have thought, and not infrequently you will find obvious suggestions from Satan, which, if known to you, might enable you to do them immense good. Now, if you accustom them to throw their little minds open to you, and to feel that you, in everything sympathize with them, they may have the most perfect confidence in you; you will naturally come to be, as you ought to be, their confidant and their counsellor. But if you will not give your time to this, if you turn them off and say, “Oh, I cannot attend to you,” or if you treat them harshly, or sarcastically; if you humiliate, embarrass, and treat them with unkindness, if you manifest no sympathy with and for them after repeated attempts to get at your heart, finding themselves baffled, they will turn sadly away, and by degrees seek sympathy and counsel from others. Thus you will lose your own influence over them and give them over to other influences that may ruin them. How amazingly do parents err in these respects. Father, Mother, how sadly do you err, how grievously do you injure your children; no, how almost certainly you will ruin them, if you drive them by your own wickedness, or leave them to seek for confidential companionship away from home.

Your brother in the bonds of the gospel,
Charles G. Finney.
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